Sometimes the biggest impacts seen are from responses to adversity. Whether it’s in the personal or professional realm, people take notice in how someone handles an unexpected twist of fate.
Of course, when applying life lessons such as these to something as trivial as football, things get lost in the translation. It makes for great Hollywood script fodder, but doesn’t live up to real-life situations in which people regularly face.
Yet, despite being obviously melodramatic, there are parallels to both reality and what the bright lights of Tinseltown choose to highlight.
Quite bluntly, few teams in the NFL have experienced the level of futility reached by both the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals. While the former had Barry Sanders and Herman Moore and the latter had the brief “Shake-’n’-Blake” moments throughout much of the 1990s, both squads were total afterthoughts in any kind of playoff picture during that decade.
More recently, inspiring coaches and big-time quarterback draftees have brought both teams to relevancy. Matthew Stafford was the second-coming of Carson Palmer, as both quarterbacks led their teams to brief appearances in recent postseason brackets.
Unfortunately, neither were able to take the respective beleaguered franchises to the next level. So, once again, different iterations of coaching staffs and quarterback employments have been used to try and turn the tides.
Fast-forward to 2021, and these teams are heading in different directions. Jared Goff now takes over for Stafford in Detroit, but they’re at a familiar 0-5 record. Meanwhile, the Bengals, on the foothills of a massive and exciting rebuild effort, are 3-2 and looking to further assert themselves in the AFC playoff picture.
In those five tough losses to start the Dan Campbell era, the Lions have been, for a lack of better words, screwed. In Week 3, Detroit had a victory firm in grasp over the Ravens, only to see Justin Ticker work his special teams magic by kicking a record-setting, “doink” of a field goal to win.
They hung tough against the Packers the previous week, while last Sunday provided a heartbreaker via another NFC North foe in the Vikings. The last-second loss against Minnesota prompted postgame tears from Campbell, which may or may not be bulletin-board material for a team starving for positive momentum.
Desperation or inspiration?
Meanwhile, in the Queen City, many of the fears with Zac Taylor and his supposed vision have been quieted. Somehow, the Bengals have a 5-5 record dating back to December of 2020, which is quite the feat, seeing as how Joe Burrow has only started half of those games (3-2 record). It’s also a one-eighty from Taylor’s 6-25-1 record the previous two seasons as the Bengals’ head man.
Still, the long-term momentum seems to be there for Cincinnati. As a young team, they’re striving for consistency, but the foundational talent seems to already be on the roster.
Last week, the Bengals went toe-to-toe with one of the NFC’s elite teams in the Green Bay Packers. Both teams made mistakes, but it was Aaron Rodgers’ squad that ultimately came out on top in a game wherein Cincinnati could have made a huge national statement.
In short, Cincinnati is looking to make a potential postseason statement once again this week, while Detroit is looking for that ever-elusive first win of the season. The former is looking to overcome a rough one they feel they should have won a week ago, while the latter likely feels this is a good week to start turning things around under Campbell.
When one looks at the rosters, even with the accrued injuries, Cincinnati has the talent edge. Check out the positional groups at wide receiver, in the secondary and more.
Yet, when it comes to this matchup, all eyes will be on both teams’ respective 2021 first-round selections. Based on Cincinnati’s offensive line performance over the past few seasons, and, in some respects, this year, the Lions’ No. 7 overall pick will be watched intently.
The receiver-hungry Lions and their fans will undoubtedly be watching Ja’Marr Chase, who has two NFL Rookie of the Week awards in the first five games of the year. While Amon-Ra St. Brown has promise, the Lions faithful are clamoring for the days when Stafford would connect with now-Hall-of-Fame wide receiver, Calvin Johnson.
Instead of selecting Chase or the second-coming of “Megatron”, the Lions went with the mammoth tackle out of Oregon, Penei Sewell. He’s provided mixed results, as evidenced by his 57.6 overall Pro Football Focus score, but he has a bright professional future, regardless.
The Bengals are dealing with some important injuries/absences this week, including cornerback Trae Waynes, promising rookie offensive lineman D’Ante Smith (now on I.R.) and running back Samaje Perine, who is apparently battling COVID-19.
Even so, this is a game where the Bengals’ star skill position players should shine. Detroit’s defense is 15th in passing yards allowed, but 30th in the NFL with allowing an opposing passer rating of 110.9. The Bengals are favored by 3.5 points, per DraftKings Sportsbook.
The Lions are also 23rd in the league in rushing yards allowed (651) and opponents are getting 4.4 yards per carry through the first five games. All of this points to the Bengals eclipsing 30 points this week—something we all figured would be a regular achievement.
Even with very different records and with some looking in the rearview for reference, both of these teams absolutely need a win this week—for very different reasons.
When you look at the records and talent disparity, you can see how this is a “trap game” for the Cincinnati Bengals. In some ways, it’s an odd position to be in, given the 6-25-1 record under Taylor’s watch from 2019-2020.
They head to Baltimore next week as the second of three-straight road contests, but their eyes will need to be on the prize this week in The Motor City. Cincinnati missed an opportunity to make a huge statement last week, but can quietly continue their somewhat-surprising postseason march with a win in a contest many had circled as a “W” when the schedule was released.
Just take care of business.
Based on the emotion shown by Campbell and the feeling of the Lions “being due” for a win, the trick for the Bengals is to get on Detroit early. Cincinnati has failed to score a point on any of its opening offensive drives this year, and getting over that hump this week will provide both short (a more likely win) and long-term (confidence) rewards.
Cincinnati jumping on an early lead will transform Detroit’s mindset and the proverbial “Here-we-go-again Monster” will make an appearance at Ford Field. While Cincinnati can relate to the issue, and it would be nice to see Detroit turn things around at some point in the near future, they don’t want it to happen this week.
I think the Lions unfortunately make a game of it, as has been in their DNA this year. However, I just think they run into a team with too much of a talent disparity to sneak into the win column.
I haven’t been a fan of everything Campbell has said and done since taking over the Lions, but I see and respect the passion he has for his team and the game of football. It’s possible he has this team going in the right direction in a year or two, should Detroit’s leadership show enough patience.
They just need a couple of years to get “their guys” before they really make waves. Sound familiar?
Bengals 31, Lions 23
AC — I’ll claw your eyes out.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.